Children’s Minister Tim Loughton today called on all local authorities to make it easier for foster carers to make decisions for the children in their care, and free them from over-zealous restrictions and bureaucracy.

In a letter to all local authorities, the minister outlined his concern at accounts of excessive restrictions on foster carers imposed by some local authorities. In particular, he is concerned at the persistent myths which are stopping many foster carers making simple decisions about everyday activities for their foster children.

Arrangements on issues like haircuts, sleepovers and family holidays should, where possible, be agreed in advance with local authorities to avoid the delays and obstacles which many children and foster carers are facing.

Local authorities have a difficult job balancing the legal rights of birth parents (who have full parental responsibility for the child or share it with the local authority) and the responsibilities of foster carers. Many local authorities are doing a good job, but to help minimise undue delays, the minister has reminded local authorities of their duty to make sure clear placement plans are agreed at the start of a foster placement so parents, social workers and foster carers know their roles and responsibilities.

Tim Loughton said:

I am concerned by accounts that foster carers are facing unnecessary obstacles when trying to make everyday decisions about the lives of the children they look after. Small but essential matters, such as whether the foster carer can take the child for a haircut, should be agreed at the outset so foster carers don't have to keep seeking permissions from several layers of bureaucracy. Foster carers do a fantastic job, providing much needed support and stability for some of our most vulnerable children and young people and we should trust them to make the right decisions.

I have today written to all local authorities to ask them to do all they can to support foster carers to make these decisions. The default position should be that foster children should be treated to as regular a home life as possible, as if they were children with their own birth parents. Most local authorities are doing an excellent job in difficult circumstances, but in some areas there is room for improvement. It’s vital these children feel part of the family and experience the normal, everyday activities that their friends do. We must knock down persistent myths, such as CRB checks always being required before a child can enjoy a sleepover with friends, that are preventing normal family life. I urge local authorities to re-examine their processes and employ common sense about how to manage relationships with foster families and children's parents.

Today’s letter coincides with the launch of a consultation on proposed changes to Children’s Homes and Fostering guidance and regulations. The changes are designed to reduce delay in foster placements, streamline bureaucracy and remove overly prescriptive regulations, including proposals to reduce the size of fostering and adoption panels. The Department wants to hear from professionals, foster carers and those with a view on fostering, about further ways the system could be improved for the benefit of children and families involved.

The Department is also supporting the development of a new toolkit from the Fostering Network which will help local authorities improve the way they delegate decision making to foster carers.

Notes to editors:

  1. The letter from Tim Loughton to directors of children’s services is available to download from this page.
  2. The consultation on Fostering and Children’s Homes regulations and guidance is available from the e-consultations website.